I’m not always in the mood for a fancy hamburger. In fact, most of the time I like my burgers basic, and I’ll break down my top five local examples in a separate post (feel free to lobby for your favorite, as long as it’s cheap and comes on a squishy bun). But every now and then, a gourmet burger in a hip dining room with a craft beer is a welcome change, like driving a late-model rental car even though my heart belongs to my 25-year-old, two-tone pickup.
Here are my go-to splurge burgers in Kansas City and Lawrence:
House Burger at Anton’s, 1610 Main St.: Expectations are high at a steakhouse that butchers its own natural, grass-fed beef. The House Burger ($13) at Anton’s delivers, keeping toppings and condiments to a minimum to let the rich flavor of the fresh ground beef shine. It comes with melted sharp cheddar oozing off the patty, which was topped with smoky bacon, Dijon mustard and pickled red onions. I added a smear of the decadent locally made ketchup that came with the fries ($4).
The Jacobson burger at the Jacobson, 2050 Central. This terrific Crossroads watering hole known for its big deck has consistently creative, well-executed appetizers and sandwiches. The urban-chic joint’s signature burger is topped with short rib marmelade, bone marrow butter and onion straws. Now, anything that contains bone marrow butter, all I’ve got to say is, hell yeah. With the short rib marmalade, The Jacobson ($14.95) skates right up to the line of gourmet concepts gone wrong without crossing it, deftly layering several comforting tastes. A hands-down winner in the fancy-not-precious category.
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Hank Burger at Hank Charcuterie, 1900 Massachussetts St., Lawrence. Hank opened as an artisanal butcher shop, but demand for the scarce tables at lunch and dinner was so stiff that the sausage cases have been pulled out to expand the dining room. The Hank Burger ($11) is clearly an homage to the Big Mac: two all-beef patties, “comeback” sauce, Alma cheddar, bread & butter pickles, caramelized onions and housemade bacon on a Farm to Market brioche. Tops in the marquee bacon-cheeseburger category.
Bleu Burger at Dempsey’s Burger Pub, 4120 Pennsylvania. The Westport outpost of the game-changing Lawrence gourmet burger purveyor executes at the same high level as the original. Housemade ketchups and condiments accent thick patties of high-quality beef, including a couple of selections made with ground kobe. The Bleu Burger ($9.50) is a rhapsody in mellow textures and flavors with tender beef cooked to the desired doneness, a slab of Maytag bleu cheese, pleasantly chewy bacon and carmelized onion confiture.
And, of course, whenever you are at Dempsey’s, you gladly fork out $4 for the duck fat fries, because: heaven.
New BRGR at BRGR, 4038 W. 83rd St., Prairie Village. This spacious gastro-pub in Corinth Square is like a neighborhood sports bar, but with better food. The New BRGR ($10) had me at “...on a salt-and-pepper bun” — wait, what? Yes, please. A ridiculously glossy golden bun flecked with visible, tasteable, course grains of salt and pepper proved a delicious wrapper for four-ounce beef patties, pepper bacon, Wisconsin cheddar, bread and butter pickles and Russian dressing. Everything on the sandwich works, a clear winner in the “basic, upscaled” category.
And, of course, whenever you are at BRGR, you gladly fork out $5 for the sweet potato tots, because: heaven.